Ds Scholarship

Lawmakers, Higher Ed propose free in-state tuition | Legislature | New Mexico Legislative Session

Governor Michelle Logan Grisham’s plan to offer free lessons to all New Mexico residents attending colleges within the state may get a second chance.

A new proposal backed by two Democratic lawmakers and the state’s Department of Higher Education would cover tuition fees for up to 35,000 eligible students — regardless of their income status.

The plan will combine all of the state’s existing undergraduate scholarships into one aid package and significantly increase the funding available.

“The real goal is to ensure college affordability, and to create a comprehensive free college package that combines all scholarships for new Mexicans looking to enroll,” Rep. provisional during Monday’s meeting.

For years, New Mexico has developed initiatives to cover some of the tuition costs for in-state colleges and universities, including recent and adult high school graduates. But the state has not yet provided enough money to meet Lujan Grisham’s goal of free education for all, which it first announced in 2019 as the New Mexico Opportunity Scholarship.

The new proposal — which Raitt and Senator Liz Stefanix, D-Cirillos in his sponsorship have not yet provided — would cost $137.5 million, according to the Department of Higher Education.

Jarratt said lawmakers would have to approve $85.5 million.

Stephanie Montoya, a spokeswoman for the Department of Higher Education, wrote in an email that the remaining $52 million will be transferred from the Legislative Lottery Grant Program, which generates revenue from lottery ticket sales.

Higher Education Minister Stephanie Rodriguez said in September that her agency was working on a budget request that would include the cost of “free college for all.”

Rodriguez told lawmakers on Monday that assistance would be available to any college student pursuing a business degree, college degree or bachelor’s degree.

Montoya emphasized that there would be no income eligibility requirements to apply for the funding.

A student will be required to maintain an average of 2.5 points for assistance and take a minimum of six credits per semester at a state or tribal college in New Mexico. Assistance will only be available to students who have not yet obtained a Bachelor’s degree.

Scholarships will be awarded each semester but may be renewed if the student continues to meet the eligibility requirements.

Under the state’s current tuition assistance programs, eligible New Mexico students have two options. If they are pursuing an undergraduate degree at a two-year college, they can apply for the Opportunity Scholarship, which covers tuition fees remaining after all other government assistance options have been applied.

The Legislative Lottery Scholarship, which began in the mid-1990s, has provided up to 100 percent of tuition fees—and up to 65 percent—for recent high school graduates pursuing an associate’s or bachelor’s degree.

The two scholarship programs together serve about 17,600 students, according to data from the Department of Higher Education.

But both faced challenges in trying to serve all eligible students.

Under state law, 30 percent of the New Mexico Lottery’s total revenue goes to the lottery grant fund. But with low ticket sales and high tuition rates, the scholarship program has struggled to keep up with demand.

Lujan Grisham introduced the Opportunity Scholarship in September 2019 as a $26 million program to cover the costs of undergraduate education for up to 55,000 first-applicants for federal grants and scholarship funds.

Lawmakers allocated $17 million to the program during the 2020 legislative session and made it available only to community college students for two years. But during a special session in June 2020, the fund was reduced to $5 million after state revenues plummeted amid the COVID-19 pandemic and lower oil prices.

Rodriguez said the opportunity grant was funded with $18 million in the 2021 legislative session.

Representative Raymundo Lara, D-Chamberino, asked several questions about a student’s eligibility for the proposed assistance, noting the differing eligibility requirements for current scholarship programs.

“I’m asking as the father of a college student,” he said, laughing. His son studies New Mexico State University.

After the meeting, Lara said the new plan “looks like a good idea, bringing everything together.”

But he said he would like to see eligibility requirements “more materialized. I’m concerned about clarity.”

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